There are certain truths when it comes to ’90s comic book stories and Fantastic Four Epic Collection: This Flame, This Fury contains many of them: Oversexualization of female characters, unnecessary character costume changes, and crossover heroes joining the fight as much as possible. These things are of course problematic, especially if done poorly, but thanks to nostalgia and hindsight they can also be interesting when viewed with perspective.
This collection houses 496 pages of indulgent wackiness, overly dramatic characters, and plenty of fond memories thanks to this being my first experience with the Fantastic Four growing up. Because of that, this review may be tainted a bit, but it’s certainly filled with problems as well.
Starting with the good, Tom DeFalco, Paul Ryan, and Mark Greunwald (with others of course) write much of this collection with art by Paul Ryan and Herb Trimpe (among others thanks to an annual issue) do a good job keeping the energy and action up. The Fantastic Four adventure into the Innerverse, face foes like Occulus the Unforgiving and Magus, and fight their own doppelgangers. This book even features Dr. Doom triumph over a Watcher, features the Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man entering the fray, and delights on every page. Literally every page has something to enjoy, send you into a shock (for better or worse), or point at as an iconic moment.
There are also strange, drawn-out, or boring plots seemingly added in to fill time. Invisible Woman changes her costume midway through the collection which features a window to show off her breasts and far more skin, for instance. There’s an eventual explanation for why she’s flying off the handle with Reed and happy to show off her body, but it takes so long to get there she comes off as a loose cannon. That hurts the character on some level.
One plot that runs way too long is the doppelganger story, with begins in an exciting way with Mr. Fantastic being beaten by his double. Seeing two Mr. Fantastic characters go at it stretching, turning themselves into bouncing balls, and other fantastical things is a delight. This carries on with Thing and then eventually every major Marvel character. Eventually, even Thanos is doubled which turns a fun twist in the story into a parlor trick.
If you’re picking this up for the iconic and historical moments, fans of Franklin must read this collection. This is the start of Franklin becoming unsafe to the family and his powers are amped up. It’s also the start of his time traveling, which may or may not be retconned at this point since it’s hard to say. This collection also features the time Wolverine slashed Thing’s face, forcing him to wear a helmet for a few years. This also sees Lyja return along with her slick ’90s Skrull costume. If you’re looking for potential MCU connections, this collection also features plenty of Agatha Harkness who is Franklin’s governess.
The ’90s were a different time for superhero comics, and with most of Fantastic Four Epic Collection: This Flame, This Fury taking place in 1992 to 1993 you’re getting the brunt of it here. For all its foibles though, the book is as sharp as any comic out today, features plenty of iconic moments, and certainly took the Fantastic Four to the max.
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